First Thessalonians 028 – Test All Things (Part 2)1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 • Dr. Andy Woods • June 4, 2023 • First Thessalonians
First Thessalonians 028 – Test All Things (Part 2)
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 – Dr. Andy Woods – June 4, 2023
Let’s go ahead and open with a word of prayer if we can and we’ll get started. Father, we’re grateful for today, the first Sunday in June. The year, believe it or not, it’s hard for us to believe, is almost half over. And Lord, as we move into these summer months, we’ve got a lot of things ahead of us. Vacation Bible school is going to start a week from tomorrow. There’s the youth Grand Canyon trip and just all kinds of things going on. So I just ask as we move into these summer months, You’d be with us here at Sugar Land Bible Church. You would move us into Your will. And I do ask Lord that as Your Word is shared both in Sunday School and the main service that follows that we would receive from You the truth that you would have for us through the ministry of illumination. I do pray for a special koinonia or fellowship as we partake of the Lord’s table in the main service later on and also participate in the fellowship lunch, and I just pray that all things would be done in accordance with Your will today. And so in preparation for that illuminating ministry of the Spirit whereby we can understand the deeper things of God, we just pray for a minute personally and privately by way of confession of sins, not to restore position, but to restore broken fellowship if need be. And so we’re going to do that now.
We remain thankful Lord for the provision You’ve made for us in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We do understand that we are eternally secure in You, but things sometimes we do in our natural selves can inhibit fellowship with You and when that happens, we really can’t receive what You have for us on any given Sunday morning. And so it’s in that vein that we confess our sins unto You in preparation for the illuminating ministry of the Spirit. I just pray that the Holy Spirit would take the things of God as we study them this morning in Your Word and apply them to the deepest needs of the human heart to all that are listening in the building, online, or archives after the fact. We’ll be careful to give You all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name and God’s people said amen.
Well if you could open your Bibles to 1 Thessalonians 5:21. Let’s see if we can get from Verse 21 to Verse 24 today. Paul, you know, in this section after having defended his apostolic credentials, Chapters 1-3, beginning in Chapter 4 began to move into correction of the Thessalonians. He’s dealt with them on a lot of different issues, immorality (4:1-8), laziness (4:9-12), eschatological misunderstandings (4:13–5:11), ministry imbalances (5:12-15), and then he sort of, beginning in 1 Thessalonians 5:16, and we started this section last time, he concludes this letter by making sure that they’re continuing on in their trajectory of growth as Christians.
So this is something that we call progressive sanctification. It’s different than justification. Justification is our birth. Progressive sanctification is our growth. And even in the natural world, you know, you have distinctions in doctors between those that are involved in the birthing process, and then, what are those called again? What kind of doctors are those? I forgot the name. Obstetrician. There we go. Obstetrician. And then there’s a totally different science in the medical industry called pediatrician, which helps the child grow and develop correctly. And it is sort of interesting that those are two different disciplines entirely, because birth and growth are two different things.
So Paul was an evangelist. He helped with their birth, but then he wanted to make sure that they were growing correctly. So I understand that when you get to the end of a book and you see all this kind of stuff at the end, it’s tempting to just sort of check out. Yeah, we’re finished with the good stuff. The rapture stuff is behind us. I can just kind of zone out at this point. But we have to remember what Jesus said, “… man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Matt 4:4).
So our doctrine of inspiration is such that we believe that every word that’s in this book – and Paul has told us several times in 1 Thessalonians that he is writing under the authority of an apostle. So when he speaks, God is speaking. So every single word in this book, even if it’s stuff at the end that we just zone out on or tune it out, is there by divine design. It’s there to help us.
PROGRESSIVE SANCTIFICATION (1 Thess 5:16-28)
And that includes this section here on practical sanctification. So what he does here is he gives three positive commands, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. Here’s three things you ought to be doing to grow as a Christian. Because how do you really know if you’re growing as a Christian? Well you’re doing these, regularly, these three positive commands.
And then 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22, he gives three negative commands. Here’s three things to not do. Stay away from. And then you finish verse 22 and you say, “Well this is a hard saying. Who can obey this?” And then he says, “Oh by the way, you’re not doing it on your own. You’re drawing upon the strength that the Holy Spirit provides,” Verses 23-24. So it becomes a wonderful section on the growth of the Christian.
So how do you know you’re growing as a Christian?
Three Positive Commands (1 Thess 5:16-18)
- Well you’re rejoicing always, Verse 16
- You’re praying without ceasing, Verse 17
- You’re giving thanks in some things when things are going well in your life. Oh, it doesn’t say that, sorry. You’re giving thanks in all things, Verse 18. Covered all that last time.
Three Negative Commands (1 Thess 5:19-22)
And then there are three things you’re not doing.
- You’re not quenching the Spirit, Verse 19
- You are not despising prophetic utterances, Verses 20-21.
And we talked about what that means last time. Basically, this was written during a time period before the canon of the Scripture was closed, and so there were prophetic utterances being given in the early church. As you probably know, as a Christian, the body of Christ is divided right down the middle on this subject. A lot of the body of Christ call themselves continuationists, meaning these prophecies are continuing. You continue to have prophets in the church that give modern oracles from God.
Sugar Land Bible Church is not of that persuasion. We’re of the persuasion that those things ceased when the canon of Scripture was completed at the end of the first century, making those partial gifts no longer needed. And there are people that will adamantly disagree with us on that, and that’s okay. We can be brothers and sisters in Christ, right? And agree to disagree agreeably.
But I just want you to know, and I speak frequently sometimes at churches that believe in these ongoing prophetic gifts. I know a lot of pastors, friends of mine, get along just great. But you should know where Sugar Land Bible Church is coming from. We believe that a prophetic utterance today is a proclamation from God’s revealed Word. And no, my tie doesn’t… You can’t have my tie with that. Just in the Bible.
Can we still despise prophetic utterances?
With that being said, can we still, given our belief system, despise prophetic utterances? Yes. Every time we ignore or are too busy to sit under Biblical teaching that’s accurate, we’re basically despising prophetic utterances.
So the way Dr. Pentecost, my professor in seminary, sort of explained this is, yes, there were prophets in the early church, but when the canon of Scripture was shut, that gift of prophecy gave way to the gift of proclamation.
So although we don’t think that there are modern prophetic utterances today, somebody having a direct pipeline from God giving an utterance that’s on equal par with the Scripture, although we believe that the canon of Scripture is shut, we still believe that there is a gift of prophecy today. It just gave way to preaching. Preachers are modern day prophets assuming that they’re preaching under the authority of the Holy Spirit and are accurate with God’s Word.
So you run into a lot of people, and they’ll say, “You know, God is speaking in our church. God speaks to us all the time.” Well, we believe that too. We believe every time we open this book and study it together, God is speaking.
So, how do you know if you’re growing as a Christian, you’re not quenching the Spirit? How do you quench the Spirit? You’re relegating proclamation and teaching to some sort of unimportant role in the church.
Do you know, very, very sadly, what’s taken the place of preaching and teaching in the church? And there’s a wonderful book on this. I read it really when I was contemplating considering entering ministry. It’s by Martin Lloyd-Jones. It’s called “Preaching and Preachers.” Martin Lloyd-Jones is about as reformed and Calvinistic as the day is long. So I’m not promoting him for that reformed Calvinistic perspective. But in that book, he’s not really dealing with his reformed theology. He’s dealing with the role of preaching and teaching in the church. And how the role of preaching and teaching in the church has given way to psychology, self-esteem type talks.
I remember the late Dave Hunt talking about the late Jay Vernon McGee, how Jay Vernon McGee was kind of lamenting, kind of moaning and groaning about the fact that his, in one very prominent radio network, his time-honored spot at noon, the noon hour, was taken away and what was replaced was kind of a talk show done by two psychologists. And Dave Hunt was talking about how Jay Vernon McGee was sort of lamenting that at the end of his life. It was the kind of thing that Martin Lloyd-Jones is talking about in his book “Preaching and Preachers.”
How if you go back to early America, for example, and even the Protestant Reformation in Europe, and you look at the basic architecture of a church, the pulpit was always right in the middle. I mean, the preacher was something someone everyone could see. He was sort of elevated, not to elevate him, but to elevate his role. You had to climb a staircase to get up into the pulpit. The pulpit was visible. And Martin Lloyd-Jones is talking about how that architecture started to change, and the pulpit kind of got pushed off to the side. And you really don’t have a pulpit anymore. You have a stage. And what’s the stage for? It is for skits and entertainment. Not that there’s no place for that at all in Christianity. It’s just a question of importance.
How the worship service, which once revolved around the proclamation of God’s Word, how the preacher gets like 20, in modern Christianity, 20 to 25 minutes at best. I shared with you the story that when I graduated from Dallas, there was a church in the Dallas area that was interested in me being the pastor. The pastor at that church preached 20 minutes. And I said, well, can it be expanded to 30 minutes? And you guys should laugh because we’re way beyond 30 minutes, praise God, and the leadership of the church has acted like that was just some crazy request. Like, nobody’s going to sit under the Word of God for 30 minutes. What are you even talking about? And what are we going to have to push off the stage to get you on the stage for an additional 10 minutes? We’re going to have to get rid of this skit or this group or whatever.
So Martin Lloyd-Jones in this book, “Preaching and Preachers,” is talking about this. He’s talking about the decline of the ministry of proclamation in modern day Christianity, how the pulpit has been replaced with somebody that’s sort of a discussion facilitator, something like that, a conversationalist, somebody that’s sort of a counselor from the pulpit, somebody that’s spends some time, what little time he has, talking about anything and everything other than what God’s Word says.
So that’s the kind of thing I think about when I see this command here, do not despise prophetic utterances. The proclamation of the Word of God is very, very important to God. And a church needs to be organized around the proclamation of God’s Word. Sugar Land Bible Church, praise the Lord, is organized around the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.
Now, what about all these other ministries that we have here? Oh, they’re very important, but they are what we would call ancillary ministries. They are what we would call auxiliary ministries. They are ministries that come in and support the preaching and teaching of the Word. Because the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. And what’s the main thing in the life of the church? It’s not to despise prophetic utterances, but it is to give a place for the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. And any other ministry that you see in the church is auxiliary or ancillary or supportive of the main ministry.
Because we believe this is how the Holy Spirit has designed the church. This is how the Holy Spirit wants the church to work. I mean, if you don’t have the proclamation of the Word of God as part of a ministry, it doesn’t matter how nice your bulletins are, how nice your brochures are, how slick your marketing campaign is, how wonderful your VBS is. And we’re going to have a wonderful VBS here, by the way, a week from tomorrow. All of that doesn’t matter because God has said those ministries are supportive. If you don’t have the main ministry going, then all those other ministries sort of lose their vitality after a while.
So if you’re interested in this subject, I do recommend that book, “Preaching and Preachers” by the late Martin Lloyd-Jones, who was a medical doctor. He took over the church in Europe. I think the pastor before him was G. Campbell Morgan. You might recognize that name. And Martin Lloyd-Jones, you can watch videos of him still on YouTube. You can track those down. Basically what he does is he reads a verse, and he comments on it. He reads a verse, and he comments on it. He reads a verse, and he comments on it. That was his preaching style. And he was heralded as one of the greatest preachers in the 20th century.
I don’t think we need books that are a thousand pages long today telling preachers how to preach because that’s what’s happening. I read a book on preaching today and it’s about a thousand pages. And you look for a scriptural index. A lot of them don’t even have one. Because it’s front-loaded with all this sort of psychological theory, what people’s attention spans allegedly are, and all of these kinds of things.
I asked Dr. Pentecost, “How do you preach?” I mean Dr. Pentecost probably had more influence over me than any other human being. Obviously, the Holy Spirit would be number one, but as far as a human teacher, Dr. Pentecost probably had more influence over me than anybody else. So I wanted to know how to preach and teach. He was a professor. He had been a pastor. I expected this sort of drawn out, long-winded talk, you know. He said, well, it’s in Ezra 7:10. He said Ezra read the Scriptures. Ezra interpreted the Scriptures. Ezra applied the Scriptures. And then he said to me, go thou and do likewise.
So preaching is really just four things. If I’m understanding him correctly, you read the Scripture. We have one of our elders, Ed Jones usually does it, but when he’s absent, others step in. When the Scripture is read, we stand. Why do you stand? You’re honoring the Word of God. You see Ezra 7 and Nehemiah 8, the same thing happening. Nehemiah 8 and Nehemiah 9. And so the Scriptures are read. Then when I get up, or whoever the particular preacher is of the morning, it’s usually me, not always me, but usually me, I’ll still read what Scripture it is we’re going to cover. Then I try to teach it or explain it to people. And then I try to apply it to their lives.
That’s right out of the Dwight Pentecost book of preaching, which wouldn’t be much of a book because it would only be like a sentence. It’s really out of the Nehemiah 8, Ezra 7 sort of model. By the way, Ezra and Nehemiah caused through this method a huge awakening in the post-exilic community that was coming out of the Babylonian captivity, and they were getting ready to rebuild the temple and they were discouraged. So God raised up men like Ezra, and basically what you’ll see is Ezra the scribe following this model. You read the Scripture. You explain the Scripture.
Now with Ezra, there was a linguistic barrier because there was an Aramaic issue going on there and he had to put it in a way that people could understand it. Hebrew versus Aramaic issue. But still, the calling of the preacher is to make the Scripture understandable to the people. I mean, if you can’t understand it, then what value is it to you? It’s like going to the Roman Catholic Mass during the Dark Ages and they did the whole service in Latin. Yeah, but Latin’s a dead language. I don’t speak Latin. Well, too bad. So you’re sitting there not understanding anything that’s going on. So the Scripture has really no value to you unless you can understand it.
So the Scripture has to be read. The Scripture has to be taught or explained. But then comes step number three is what does it mean to me in the 21st century? The Scripture has to be applied. So it seems pretty simple, doesn’t it?
The world of religion has made this, like most things, extremely complicated. But it really is not very complicated. You know, governing a church is pretty simple and you just stick to what God says. Now, if you don’t want to stick to what God says and you want to develop your own model, then yeah, you need to write about a thousand-page book on that. But if you’re just sticking with the Scripture, you don’t even need a book. All you’ve got to do is follow what Nehemiah 8, Nehemiah 9, and Ezra 7 says.
The reason I’m bringing all of this up is when the church doesn’t do that, it’s despising prophetic utterances. If we’re despising prophetic utterances, how in the world am I supposed to grow in the middle tense of my salvation? I can’t grow. I can’t develop unless I’m in an environment that honors this.
“But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;” (1 Thess 5:21)
So do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. And there’s something else very interesting when you look at 1 Thessalonians 5:21. Notice the balance here. Verse 20, “do not despise prophetic utterances.” Verse 21, “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;”
So yeah, we’re not to despise proclamations and prophetic utterances, but at the same time, you don’t just sit there as a Christian and put your brain on hold and just accept everything that comes across the airwaves or the sound waves or the internet or everything that comes across the pulpit. I mean, if you’re just blindly sitting there and accepting everything without first putting it through a critical lens, then you can’t grow as a Christian.
Because yeah, don’t despise prophetic utterances, but at the same time, it says, “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;”
So when it says, “Examine everything carefully,” where does that idea come from? You might want to switch in your Bible over to Deuteronomy 13:1-5. God through Moses is instructing the nation of Israel as they’re about ready to enter Canaan. And He says, ““If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ [whoops] you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. “You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. “But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, [wow, sounds like God is serious about this] because he has counseled rebellion against the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you.”
So, look, you’re going to go into the land. In the land, you’re going to start seeing prophets that are going to be very impressive because they’re actually going to perform a sign or a wonder. And the sign or wonder will happen. But simultaneously, that prophet will say, “Let us follow other gods, little g,” which would be a violation of the first two commandments, right, and the Ten Commandments. No graven images, Exodus 20. No graven images, no other gods before Me.
So the prophet will have very impressive credentials. The prophet will actually have the ability to work miracles, but at the same time, the prophet will contradict what God has already said in the Ten Commandments. And the moment the prophet, alleged prophet, does this, you are to reject the message of that prophet. In fact, you’re to reject him. You’re to purge the evil from the community. You are to test the prophet.
What do you test the prophet by? You test the prophet by what God said earlier. Because God can’t say one thing on Monday and totally contradict Himself on Tuesday. So it’s not what God already said that’s on trial. The prophet is on trial. And you’re to always listen to what he (the prophet) is saying, and you are to see if his message lines up with God’s prior revelation. The moment it doesn’t is the moment you’re dealing with a false prophet.
So you’ll notice here that the Israelis, the Hebrews, were told not to just sit there and accept everything that you hear in the name of spirituality, but you’re to test the prophets.
By the way, how is it that a prophet that’s operating outside of God has the ability to announce a sign or wonder that comes true? I mean, isn’t God giving them the ability to perform that miracle? Not necessarily. Does God perform miracles? Absolutely. But there is another reservoir of miracle-working power in the universe. And that is the devil and his fallen angels. They perform miracles too.
I don’t think as a created being, he has the same power that God has. But from the human perspective, he’s an angel, right? And we’re created a little under the angels. He has tremendous power as far as we look at things to perform miracles. So that’s why as a Christian, you really should not be impressed with a miracle or a sign or wonder. Because we think that a sign or wonder happens, it must be from God, not necessarily. You could have a satanically energized prophet performing miracles under Satan’s power.
Well, how do I know? Because your mind is not turned off. You’re testing the message with God’s prior revelation. And the moment the prophet is contradicting God’s prior revelation is the moment you say, well, that’s not a prophet of God. And whatever miracle that he or she has performed is not from God, it must be coming from Satan. Yeah, but this prophet is awesome. They’re able to pack out churches, and their books are at the top of the Amazon bestseller list. And they’re interviewed on Oprah, the Oprah Winfrey Network. And they’re so impressive. Well, as a Christian, you’re not to be impressed by stuff like this, because Satan can create all of that.
What should always impress you is does the message harmonize with what God has already said? So there is probably in the scripture the first exhortation I can find related to the child of God’s responsibility to test the prophets. When you go back to 1 Thessalonians 5:21, that’s what it’s speaking of. You’re under the ministry of proclamation, but, Verse 21, “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;”
By the way, this chart here, I use this all the time when I was teaching at the local Bible college because I had many, many Pentecostal, charismatic, continuationist students who were so impressed with miracles. And this slide here, it’s every example in the Bible I could find. I wish we had time to go through every single verse. But it’s every miracle I could find in the Bible where a miracle is occurring, and God has nothing to do with it.
Now, we all know the different verses where a miracle happens and God is behind it, but have you ever looked at all of the verses that deal with miracles happening in the Bible and they’re not coming from God? One of them is right here, number two, in Deuteronomy 13:1-3. The first one is the magicians in Egypt who could imitate Moses and Aaron’s miracles to a point, Exodus 7 and 8, and you go right on down the list here. And there are many, many examples in the Bible where miracles are happening, and God has nothing to do with it.
See, we’re living in a culture that has now a flawed epistemology. That’s our big word for the day. Can you say that with me? Epistemology. Very good. Epistemology is how we know what we know. I mean, it’s really interesting. It’s a whole academic discipline. How do we know what we know? In other words, how do you know what’s true? The culture says it’s true if there’s an experience. A lot of Christendom says, I know it’s true if there’s an experience. But that is a flawed epistemology because Scripture tells us that there’s another source of experiences in the universe that is not benevolent like God is. It’s malevolent, Satan and his minions. They can give you experiences too.
I mean, when a fellow Christian comes up to you and tells you about their dream or their vision or their experience or their liver quiver or whatever it is they had or the goose bumps or all these kinds of things, you should say, well, that’s interesting, but that’s not the definitive issue. The definitive issue is not the experience because the devil can give experiences. The definitive issue is the message consistent with God’s prior revelation.
So because we’re living in this culture that has a flawed epistemology, we are now number nine (Rev. 13:3, 13, 15; 16:13-14), sitting ducks for the Antichrist and the false prophet, who in the tribulation period will give the world tremendous experiences. I mean, not the least of which is the false prophet is going to bring down fire from heaven, just like Elijah did. Yeah, but God did that with Elijah. Yes, He did. But with the false prophet, Satan is doing it.
Well, are you saying that Satan has as much power as God has? No, I’m not. What I’m saying is he has power that seems God-like from our limited human perspective. And if your epistemology is flawed, you’re going to follow the Antichrist in the tribulation period.
Test All Things
So what you’ll discover as you move through the Scripture is this command to test all things all over the Bible. Probably one of the most obvious examples is the Bereans in Acts 17:11. It says, “Now these [that’s the Bereans] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, …” The group that Paul is writing to here. The Bereans and the Thessalonians were all saved, but the Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonians. Well, why is that? “… for they received the word with great eagerness, … ” You see that? They weren’t unteachable, these Bereans. A lot of people are just unteachable. No one likes their file drawers rearranged. No one likes to hear a presupposition that they’ve had for years challenged in church.
A lot of people will leave Sugar Land Bible Church because the preacher challenged their presupposition. We’ve had a lot of people leave because of that. In other words, I’ve learned it a certain way and I don’t want my file drawers rearranged. So anything you tell me that contradicts my existing presupposition, even though my existing presupposition may be errant, I don’t want to listen to it.
You’ll notice that the Bereans were not that way. They were eager to learn. They were eager to have faulty assumptions challenged. “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word of God …”
Not just with eagerness, but with great eagerness. So they were fulfilling 1 Thessalonians 5:20, “Do not despise prophetic utterances.” But they were also fulfilling Verse 21, which says, “Test all things, hold fast to that which is good.” Because as you look at that last clause there, what does it say?
They were examining the Scriptures on a monthly basis. Whoops. Doesn’t say that. Every single day they heard something, and they said, “You know, is this true? This is great, but is it true?” And what were they screening teaching through? Through God’s prior revelation, which in this case would be the Old Testament, what we call Old Testament, Hebrew Bible. They wanted to see if the things that the Apostle Paul was saying was consistent with what they already knew in Hebrew Bible.
They were “… examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11) Paul, we love you. We love to sit under your teaching. But at the same time, Paul, I’ve got to make sure that what I’m hearing from you is really right, so I’m running you and your teaching through the grid of what God has already said in Hebrew Bible.
That’s how you fulfill 1 Thessalonians 5:21. You don’t despise prophetic utterances, but Verse 21, “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;”
In other words, you don’t believe something just because someone in a place of authority said it was true. Now, I don’t think Paul’s really a lightweight, do you? I mean, he’s the Apostle Paul. He’s the guy that wrote a third of our New Testament epistles. And they did that with Paul. If they did that with Paul, and they’re commended for it, they’re more noble-minded. The Thessalonians weren’t doing this. If they did it with Paul, how much more do you do it with a modern-day radio program? Or a modern-day television set? Or a local church pastor?
I mean, I hope everything that you’re hearing from this pulpit you’re screening. You know, you’re not being contentious. You’re not being argumentative. But is this really true? I mean, this is good stuff, but is it really accurate? And the only way you can figure that out is not by the size of the church. You can’t figure it out based on the size of an online following. Because Satan can create big churches too, and create big followings online. The only way you can do it is if you’re running everything through the grid of what you already know in the Scripture.
Meaning that, I think, you’ve got to start learning what’s in here [the Bible]. This is your instruction manual.
What does the Bible stand for? Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.
Right? Is that right? B-I-B-L-E. B-I-B-L-E. That’s the book for me. Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. This is your instruction manual. You start to read it. Now, if you’re not reading your Bible on your own, how do you screen anybody about anything? You have no knowledge base to do that.
So the Bereans apparently knew Hebrew Bible well enough to say, “Paul, we think your teaching is wonderful, but let me just run it through my personal grid first to make sure it’s accurate.”
1 Corinthians 14:29 says the same thing about prophesying in the early church. Paul says, “Let two or three prophets speak, …” Now, this was during a time where there were direct revelations from God going on. So the prophets are not to talk over each other. You’re not to have dueling prophets. He says, “Let two or three speak, and let the others…” Now, who would the others be? The listeners. “…let the others pass judgment.”
So they’re listening to these prophecies and they’re saying does it align with what God has already revealed in His Word? Not, “Did I learn it that way from my former church?” Not, “Did the guy who led me to Christ teach it this way?” You run it through the grid of what the Scripture actually says, and if it aligns, you embrace it, and you praise the Lord. If it doesn’t align, then you reject the message of that particular prophet who is not a prophet, but a false teacher, because they’re contradicting God’s Word.
1 John 4:1 “Beloved, [obviously written to Christians] do not believe every spirit, but [what?] test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because [just a couple of false prophets – doesn’t say that] many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
False prophets are a dime a dozen. They’re everywhere. They’re in the church and they’re outside the church.
Therefore, you do not believe everyone that claims to speak for God, but you test the spirits, Acts 17:11, Deuteronomy 13:1-5, 1 Corinthians 14:29, you test the spirits to see whether they are from God. The only way you can tell is, does their message align with God’s prior revelation or the Bible: Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth?
In fact, we had somebody here, and she went up to one of our ladies talking about her vision that she just saw. She saw all these things kind of happening in the sanctuary. I saw this vision. I saw this angel. I saw this. I saw that. And one of our Bible study leaders said, “Well, did you test the spirits?” And the person immediately got so angry they left the church. As if testing the spirits is somehow a quenching of the Spirit.
The testing of the spirits is not the quenching of the Spirit. The testing of the spirits is a biblical command for all Christians. If you’re just blindly accepting everything you see and everything you’re told, you’re falling short of God’s standard for your life, and you cannot grow in the middle tense of your salvation.
I’ve used this example before of a child that’s crawling. Everything they see they put in their mouth. That’s what a new Christian is like. Oh, did you hear what they said in this seminar? Oh, did you hear about this book that just came out? Oh, did you hear this guy on TV? He was talking about a fresh revelation from God. And so the new Christian is just absorbing every single thing that they’re hearing.
But if a child is crawling on the ground at age 16 and everything they see on the ground, they put in their mouth, it loses its cuteness. You have a developmental problem. And so as you mature as a Christian, you start to become an adult and you start to realize, well, not everything lying on the ground is good for me to put in my mouth. In fact, if it’s lying on the ground, you might not even consider putting it in your mouth at all. Unless it’s, what do they call it, the two second rule? And it’s a really tasty piece of candy. That might be okay. But other than that, anything lying on the ground you shouldn’t put in your mouth.
So this is basically how you mature as a Christian – you test all things.
What did Jesus say to the church at Ephesus? Before He rebuked the church at Ephesus, He said a lot of nice things about them. And one of the things He said about them is in Revelation 2:2. He says, “‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, [Jesus is commending them here] and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test [that’s exactly what John said elsewhere in his little epistle] you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;”
The versions say you have found them to be liars. So there were people, apparently, coming into the church at Ephesus at the close of the first century, saying, “I’m a prophet. I’m an apostle. Listen to me.” And the church at Ephesus said, okay. And as they were listening to these alleged apostles, they were starting to figure out, well, wait a minute, these apostles are contradicting what God has said in His written Word. What God has revealed earlier. What God has revealed elsewhere. And since God can’t lie, these apostles must be false.
So you don’t throw out the Bible, right? You throw out the message of the apostles. Now, sometimes your interpretation or our interpretation of the Bible might be wrong. So it can be challenged in that respect. But if someone is saying something that flatly contradicts what the Lord and the real apostles actually said, then you are to reject the message of the false teacher.
So this is the mental process of testing, mental alertness. You’re not putting your brain on hold just ’cause you’re in a church. It’s an active process. And if a person can’t do that, then they, sadly, can’t grow in the middle tense of their salvation.
And the basic premise of this is God can’t contradict Himself. And the philosophers all get into, “Oh, are there some things God can’t do?” And if God can’t do something, is He really God?
Yes, there are some things God can’t do. Well, can God make a rock so big that He can’t lift it? No, He can’t do that. And He won’t do it because God is always sovereign over His creation. He can’t make a rock so big He can’t move it.
Can God lie? No, He can’t lie. Because if He were to tell a lie, He would contradict His nature, which is 100% truth.
That, by the way, is the exhortation for us to be people of truth, because God is about truth. And if God is not into lying, because it’s impossible for God to lie, maybe we as Christians shouldn’t do that either, because we’re supposed to imitate His character at the end of the day. So God can’t say one thing on Monday and say something different on Tuesday.
Jesus can’t say no one knows when the Lord is returning. Not even the Son of Man or the angels, and then turn around through Herald Camping and give a specific date for the Lord’s return. I remember early 1990’s there was some group saying Jesus is coming back in 1992, and they had all of these kind of signs and bands, you know, with these logos and things on it.
And I remember saying to myself, well, I can either believe what the Bible says, or I can believe what these folks are saying. Yeah, but these folks are really popular, doesn’t matter. These folks are pulling off a lot of adherents who are following them, doesn’t matter.
It only matters what the Bible says because God can’t contradict Himself. You know, we have several pilots in our church. A pilot that’s worth their salt, in fact, if a pilot doesn’t do this, I don’t know if I want to get on the airplane with them. A pilot always looks at the compass [attitude indicator / artificial horizon], always. They don’t fly based on their feelings or their emotions because their feelings or their emotions many times will say the plane is upside down. You need to put it right side up. But if you’re looking at the compass [artificial horizon], which is objectively true, and can’t lie to you, it doesn’t really matter what your feelings say, it doesn’t matter what your emotions say. You fly by what is accurate.
This book [the Bible] is 100% accurate. Anything you hear, you’re screening it through the grid of this Book. Which means you have to have a basic understanding of what this Book says about different things to do this. Otherwise, what are you at the end of the day? You’re a Christian that really is not progressing in the middle tense of their salvation. It’s what Ephesians 4:14 says, “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;”
You’re just like being tossed about like waves on the ocean. And being tossed around all of the time, you can’t grow. People write to me a lot and they say, “Well, what do you think about what this guy says?” “What do you think about this guy over here? What do you think about what they’re saying?” And my response is, “What does the Bible say?” Why do you care what I think anyway about what someone says? You’ve got your own Bible and you can screen what they’re saying through the Word of God.
And if I hear something that kind of sounds off, I’ll say, “Well, why don’t you examine this scripture over here and screen what you hear from them through the Word of God and see if what they’re saying is true?” Because, as John says, many false teachers have gone out into the world. So God can’t lie. That’s my point.
Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that he should lie, ….” He can’t say something in this book and say something contradictory through a preacher, prophet, alleged apostle, etc.
Titus 1:2 says, “… God, who cannot lie, ….”
Hebrews 6:18 says, ” … it is impossible ….” Not that it’s hard or difficult. “… it is impossible for God to lie, ….”
So how do I know if I’m growing in the middle tense of my salvation?
- I’m not quenching the spirit.
- I’m not despising prophetic utterances.
- But at the same time, I’m examining all things to see if these things are true.
Abstain From Evil
And then one other fast thing that we should stay away from, we should abstain from evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:22, “abstain from every form of evil.” Some of your translations will say, like the King James Bible, “abstain from all appearance of evil.” And quoting here Dr. Constable in his online notes, he says, “This verse does not subject Christians to abstain from every interpretation of evil as given by others. Rather it is calling believers to abstain from what is actually evil.” Because people will come up with these views that, “Oh, you went to that graduation ceremony last night, and there was dancing on the floor? Now I know you weren’t dancing because you got to hurt knee, but I saw your wife dancing, and that’s evil.” Well, that’s not evil. That’s someone’s misinterpretation of what evil is.
So you’re not called as a Christian to abstain from ridiculous, legalistic interpretations of other people. I’ve seen this verse very sadly used that way. I don’t know what it is with our nature, we want to control everybody. We want to control people. And if you get under inaccurate biblical interpretation, it can be a very powerful source of legalism and controlling others.
This verse is not saying that you submit to every single legalistic interpretation of what evil is. What it’s talking about is you’re abstaining from what actually is evil, and that’s important to understand.
So three positive commands. What are those real quick? Anybody remember?
- Rejoice always.
- Pray without ceasing.
- Give thanks in all things.
How are we doing with those? Those are hard, aren’t they?
Three negative commands.
- Do not quench the Spirit.
- Do not despise prophetic utterances, although examine everything, to see if these things be so.
- Abstain from evil.
Now, at this point we’re saying, well, these are hard sayings. Who can obey these? How do you do this? I mean, goodness gracious. Well, look at the balance in the Bible. Paul says there’s divine help, divine enablement, the power of the Holy Spirit. Someone has said, well, the Christian life is difficult. The Christian life is not difficult. The Christian life is impossible.
If you’re trying to live the Christian life through your own power, it is an impossible, frustrating task. That’s why so many people are burnt out in Christianity because they’re trying to do something that’s impossible to do.
It becomes possible, though, when you dial into the ministry of the Holy Spirit, which is inside of us as we speak. Paul, in the book of Galatians 5:16, says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”
Walk means dependence. Walking moment by moment under the influence of the Spirit. That enables us to say no to the flesh. And so we’ll study that divine enablement next time.
Let’s pray. Father, we’re grateful for today, grateful for Your truth in Your word, grateful for the fact that You haven’t just caused us to be blinded by the Spirit. You’ve not just caused us to be born, but You’ve given us the tools to grow. And we pray that we will put these things into practice this week. We ask all of these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said amen.
 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. 1995. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, unless otherwise noted.
 See Chart at minute mark 00:32:43.
- Job 1:12-19; 2:7-8
- 1 Sam. 28?
- 7:21-23; 24:24
- Acts 8:9; 16:16
- 2 Thess. 2:9
- 13:3, 13, 15; 16:13-14